Photo: Stephen Lam | Reuters
Yesterday at WWDC, surrounded by digital fanfare in the AR/VR worlds, Apple announced it’s first move into “realities” space. My disappointment and despair ensued.
For months, we’ve been teased with rumors circulating around fall of 2017. This glorious time was supposed house the unveiling of a new iPhone which, reportedly, would either be transformed into an AR device or, at the very least, better utilize existing augmented reality technology. What did we get instead? An announcement about the launch of ARKit, which promises to “turn iOS 11 into ‘the largest AR platform in the world.’”
This announcement was made amongst many others from Apple. One states they’re finally catching up to Google and Amazon with a home pod, while another simply indicates a new operating system is on the horizon. Mixing the product in with all of these other announcements indicates it may not worthy of individual fanfare, and most “top ten things announced at WWDC” lists don’t even mention the ARKit until after the new iMac screen resolution. No one seems excited about the launch, and it seems as though even Apple tried to lump it in with other bits in order to avoid scrutiny.
In comparison, this is the same as your best, but long-distance, friend telling you for months about his new sports car — complete with red flames painted on the hood and heated/cooled leather seats. When you finally see the car, you notice it is actually his old Dodge Neon self-painted red, flame stickers flop atop the headlights, and the heated leather seats are actually just pleather seat covers with icy-hot patches stuck to the inside.
The new ARKit preview at WWDC 2017 | Credit: Adi Robertson
That part is simple: if Apple had a game-changing, state-of-the-art device releasing in a mere few months, they would not have announced the ARKit today. Absolutely not. Instead, they would have used these months to allow the already exaggerated hype to gain momentum and lead to the unveiling of a knock-your-socks-off product. A product people would have (as history indicates) waited in line for days to purchase. The one and only reason to forgo that type of business strategy/marketing technique is because no such device will be presented by Apple in 2017.
Most articles about yesterday’s announcement are praising Apple’s new embrace of VR technology. It’s hard for me to do the same, right now, as their announcement hardly seems worthy of a tech giant. All of Apple’s main competitors unveiled products months or years ago — all with physical devices for use in an AR/VR experience. Apple, however, is only able to claim they are working on making an AR and Pokemon Go experience more realistic while launching a program without a corresponding gadget.
Typically, I would welcome this type of detailed re-evaluation of an existing product in order to drive overall improvements — Apple is famously good at doing this, after all. In this case, however, it seems like Apple finally admitted to themselves that they are not ready to unveil a physical consumer product this year but are also aware they cannot wait until 2018 to finally join the AR/VR realms. This move seems almost desperate.
I am far from an Apple insider, but recognizing their past patterns of launch behavior is rather simple. Apple follows a formula to catapult major new items into consumer spaces, and what they did at WWDC yesterday practically screams for us to stop talking about a fall of 2017 product release.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook at WWDC in 2015 | Credit: Bloomberg
With any luck, they’ll start making strides in augmented, virtual or mixed reality spaces. 2018 is a long time to wait in the highly-competitive technology world, but perhaps the time will be well-spent.
Apple does a few things very well (at least up until recently if yesterday is an yindication). Marketing, user experience, and competition. These are all needed in VR and AR if we aim to propel this type of tech into the future — competition, especially, as that is what drives the pursuit of better invention. As Apple is famous for coming out with a “better” product long after other companies launch similar items, this extended delay may indicate they are using time to perfect their device(s).
In the meantime, I haven’t worked with ARKit, and I do think this will likely have a good place in the AR world, so I’m off to explore the only option Apple has yet provided.